How to balance work and study

Emma Knowles, Editor
October, 2017

An increasing number of students are funding their living costs through part-time work. Find out how to maintain a positive work/life balance so that your studies don't suffer

Nearly eight in ten students hold down a job alongside their studies to make ends meet while at university. 67% of respondents to the Student Money Survey 2017 said they worked part-time, while an additional 9% revealed they were self-employed. An alarming 84% of students worry about their financial situation, up from 80% of respondents in 2016.

If you're trying to decide if finding a job is the right move for you, read on for advice from students who have been in your shoes.

Benefit from part-time work

'I've always enjoyed working and being able to spend the money I've earned is satisfying,' says Danniella Jordan, BSc Psychology student at the University of Reading. After completing the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) Danniella now works as a UROP assistant, sharing her experience of the programme, helping to organise events for current UROP students and giving talks at UROP workshops. 

While many students are looking to top up their loans and earn some spare cash, that's not the sole benefit of taking up part-time work. 'I also got on really well with my co-workers which made work another fun part of my university experience, while equipping me with an array of office work experience to add to my CV,' Danniella adds.

'Even if a student is financially secure enough not to need to work during their studies, we still suggest working part time or volunteering, as good-quality work experience is so important,' says Jay Russell, campus jobs manager at the University of Reading.

Consider your schedule

However, before applying for any part-time job, you should first think about your study schedule. 'Shops are busiest in November and December, and you may be given lots of extra shifts,' Jay explains. 'This could be perfect for you - but not if you have lots of essays due or exams to revise for.'

Gemma Witts, employability adviser at the University of Kent, encourages students to be honest about the amount of work they can take on. Employers in need of staff to cover shifts during term time often take advantage of eager student workers who need the money.

'Be clear at interview about the hours and days that you can work,' recommends Gemma. 'Employers will often expect employees with part-time jobs to be flexible and work more hours during busy periods. Explain that you're willing to do this, but highlight when your lectures and seminars are, as well as coursework deadlines and exams.'

While it's important to be careful when taking on extra responsibilities, part-time work can be a great addition to your schedule. 'Having a part-time job alongside my third year studies was surprisingly helpful, as working provided a good, yet productive distraction,' says Danniella. 'If I was working in the afternoon, it meant I had the morning to study before work. If I was working in the morning, I had a definite time to wake up for. Working gave me the motivation to carry on being productive throughout the day.'

Plan your time effectively

Taking on the extra responsibility of a part-time job won't make excelling in your studies impossible, but you'll need to be highly organised and have good time management to make it happen.

Jasmine Chana, LLB Law student at the University of Reading, works as a careers ambassador for the university. 'Working part-time on campus gives me the flexibility to choose my working hours - though this requires using initiative to check my timetable and ensure my shifts don't clash with my studies,' she says.

Avoid signing up for shifts that coincide with assignment deadlines or exam revision periods. If you work as an ambassador like Jasmine, follow her advice and book in more shifts in your first two terms. Typically this is when there are more opportunities to work as there are more events and activities held on campus, and you'll have more free time to get involved.  

Also, don't try to stay on top of your workload by memory alone. 'It's essential to have a diary or planner,' claims Isabel Railson, who is studying BA Politics and English Language and Linguistics at the University of Kent. 'Visual representation of your time helps you to organise yourself and fit everything in.'

If you ever do find that you're working too much, Jay advises that you talk to your manager and ask whether it's possible to reduce your hours. 'Ultimately, your health, wellbeing and degree should come first,' he insists. Should you ever be feeling the strain, see our five ways to manage student stress.

Tailor your job application

Working part-time throughout your studies equips you with the transferrable skills employers are looking for, so it's important to highlight these in your CV and cover letter.

'All jobs require you to be confident in the tasks you carry out. Being a careers ambassador definitely gets me out of my comfort zone, which is a valuable game-changer any employer wants to see on your CV,' Jasmine says. By working part-time, you'll develop teamwork, problem solving, time management and communication skills - all of which will boost your graduate career prospects.

Make sure your application is tailored to the job you're applying for. In your cover letter, explain how you'll put the skills you've developed into practice. The same applies for your part-time job application - employers at a bar or café won't want to hear about the specific modules in your biomedical sciences degree, but will interested to hear how your degree has improved your ability to strike a good work/life balance and work as part of a team, for instance.

Find out more